Note: This first appeared in the May 1 edition of the RightWisconsin Daily Update. You can subscribe to the Daily Update, free, by clicking the button. Daily Update
I hope you’re all enjoying the fine, sunny day while I hunker down in the near windowless bunker reading the latest book by Jonah Goldberg, “The Suicide of the West.” I’d link to it, but there’s no profit in it for me. Just know that I strongly recommend the book. It’s about tribalism and capitalism and, while I haven’t checked the appendix yet, it’s probably also about cannibalism. I’ll write a review of it when I’m finished, and we’ll invite Oprah Winfrey to read it at her book club.
Anyway, I mention it because I’m deeply concerned about how tribalism has replaced ideas in the battleground of us and them. And what’s especially interesting to me is how us and them are changing. If there is a regret I have about the way the U.S. Senate debate between state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) and Kevin Nicholson ended last Thursday night, it overshadowed an interesting development in Nicholson’s campaign.
When we talk about populism, one of the uglier aspects of that style of movement is how it defines an “other” in a paranoid style and makes that the focal point of the political effort.
I think Vukmir was right that Nicholson, in his campaign against “insiders,” was unfairly lumping together Republican activists in Wisconsin with the problems in Washington D.C. Talking about a “Madison Swamp” sounds more like the Democrats attacking Governor Scott Walker’s record than a Wisconsin Republican seeking his party’s nomination for U.S. Senate. As Walker himself pointed out at the Weekly Standard’s Midwest Conservative Summit (apparently a meeting of “the establishment”), Wisconsin conservatives have accomplished more in the last six-plus years than in any other state in the country.
But my inner alarms went off when Nicholson started talking about a political class that is profiting off of “the status quo” and the rise of a new “aristocracy.” For example, while describing the tax cut, Nicholson saw it as a way to get at “them.”
“The insiders, the politicians, they will use those tools to punish the industries they want to punish, to reward the industries they want to reward,” Nicholson said. “The less tools they have, the better for all of us. The better for you and your families. So keep those rates low, consistent and broad. Allow companies to plan for the future, to invest intelligently. Allow them to keep their capital here in the United States of America and invest it. Those should always be the policies that we put into place. And the only folks who are actually going to do that are outsiders, because the insiders are all making money and getting money from the industries that benefit from the status quo.” (Emphasis added.)
The insiders are the ones who are secretly keeping you down, and the insiders are making a profit off your misery. Apparently, you can take Nicholson out of the Democratic Party, but you can’t take the Progressive rhetoric out of Nicholson. Nicholson has even blamed “insiders” at least twice for the loss of the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, even though the same “Madison Swamp” led Republicans to so many victories in Wisconsin, including President Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 that Nicholson touts.
We’ve certainly done our share of criticizing politicians for supporting causes and interests, and we’ve even talked about how government tends to favor different industries. But when everyone else is an “insider,” including Vukmir and Walker, and the only pure-at-heart candidates are “outsiders” like Nicholson, that’s not conservatism. That’s Oliver Cromwell smashing the stained-glass windows.
There is a case to be made for a smaller government: more freedom, more economic opportunity, and, yes, less need of a parasitic group of lobbyists wanting government largesse. But real leadership isn’t creating scapegoats for a mob to destroy, it’s providing a better, positive, alternative. Otherwise, as Danton and Robespierre learned the hard way, the movement may devour itself. Let’s spare the Republican Party the cannibalism.